There is some bad news and some mildly disturbing news. Which would you prefer to read first?
The only stories a team and a fan base coming off a 3-15 season look forward to in the off-season are those about flittering butterflies and the aroma of honeydew melons, so it is time to be as delicate as possible when I share a couple of eye openers from the last few days.
It has been almost two weeks since the CFL Players' Association (CFLPA) and the league had publicized, scheduled meetings in Calgary. Though it was conveyed to the players, in an email from their president, that "... it is still early in the process and talks have progressed," after the meetings with the league it was noted "... we still have not made any headway on the two crucial items of player safety and revenue sharing."
To refresh, by "player safety" the players are referring to how many times a week, during the season, the coaches can make them wear shoulder pads. Since the NFL has mandated their players can only have one fully padded practice a week during the regular season, the CFLPA has decided it makes sense their players are afforded the same courtesy, especially since they make considerably less than their southern counterparts.
In my experience in the CFL, rarely were we forced to don shoulder pads more than once a week during the regular season. I can't recall a week where we had to wear them more than twice -- except for a stretch or two when former coach Dave Ritchie went berserk on us back in the early 2000s -- so this will not be a deal breaker going forward.
What will be a deal breaker is the fact the league will still not agree to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with either no salary cap or, more realistically, one where they can "tie a salary cap to a percentage of revenue like every other major professional sport in North America."
Revenue sharing is something the players gave up in the last CBA, when the league insisted it was in the poor house. Now all the league has to do to avoid an escalating labour dispute is reinstate it and negotiate a fair percentage with the players. It seems simple and easy enough, but it appears the CFLPA is preparing for the worst, as this last mass communication with the membership ended with a request for permanent addresses so that they may "... if necessary, conduct a vote to strike by way of secret ballot." The league may be waiting for the players to blink in this staring contest, but it appears this is one issue they will not concede.
In less worrisome news, I recently read a story published on the Bomber website by Kim Babij-Gesell, The Etcheverry Difference, where she reveals the Blue defensive co-ordinator's unorthodox nuances of secrecy and a lack of playbooks.
I was first introduced to Gary Etcheverry in 2006 when he was a guest coach on defence, and I distinctly remember learning the difference between "running to the football" and "REALLY running to the football." I was so impressed by his intensity that after the camp, when he asked if he could list me as a reference for a head coaching job at SFU, I didn't hesitate. Yet if memory serves me, the reason Etcheverry didn't get that job was my alma matter wanted to see the kind of defensive scheme he would be implementing, and he refused to share it with them unless he got the position. He is still so adamant about his proprietary information today, he does not even issue playbooks to his players. Like most old dogs, change to this degree would have scared the hell out of me, as I have never even heard of such a proposition -- but that doesn't necessarily make it bad news.
In fact, maybe coining this as "mildly disturbing" is simply an old-school mentality getting the best of me. As long as it works, I'm sure Bomber fans and players won't care if he scrolls out his weekly blitz packages in disappearing ink.
I just hope when Etcheverry tells his players at their very first meeting they are "... going to have to forget everything you think you know about football," they don't take it too literally. There are only so many ways you can reinvent the wheel, no matter how unorthodox and secretive the scheme may be.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.